Public opinion holds special importance in regards to a democratic government due to the different aspects that can influence the decisions of political leaders. For a democratic government to reach its full potential, there must be tolerance among citizens regarding points of view and rules, a basic understanding of values and goals, meaningful participation among citizens, and a sense of trust for their fellow citizens and government. Political actions can only be effective and the government can only provide trust within the American public by providing a response to their interests through public opinion. Citizens are more favorable to democratic values and the political system when there is a higher sense of political knowledge (Erikson and Tedin 2011). If in a democracy knowledge is power, can public opinion mean anything if citizens know nothing?
Education and knowledge in politics of the American public holds the reigns of influence in public opinion (Erikson and Tedin 2011). Research has shown that citizens’ political knowledge fall into three different categories. Citizens know little, judge, or do not care about politics (Kuklinski, et al. 2001). Political culture starts at a young age and is influenced by many external factors during their developing years before reaching adulthood where they are given the chance to establish their own political stance. In order to understand where the lack of knowledge and the different factors leading to this issue, this paper takes a look at the political life cycle.
Before a child becomes of age to enter the voting booth, the youth goes through a political life cycle. “The primacy principle” attains that an adult’s political life is affected by the knowledge gained as a child. The political environment of an adolescent shapes their future attitudes and behaviors. At a young age, children are forced to accept the political order within their political system (Erikson and Tedin 2011).
Political recognition and national identity are simple foundations learned during early childhood. Although political symbols are the most recognizable aspect at this age, children within early childhood also understand and identify with the symbol of political community. Entering into grade schools, this early learning of politics begins to expand exponentially. Children begin to increase knowledge of feelings and affect, but political understanding and critical thought are still out of reach. Awareness and trust of the president and police officer developed during this stage of the political life cycle. These feelings and respect towards the president affects the child’s view on other political figureheads and organizations. This early childhood helps develop a positive outlook towards the government and legitimize the political order (Erikson and Tedin 2011).
As children reach a higher education and political understanding, children begin to further themselves from a personalized view of government. In the...